The flight from Hong Kong to Sydney is overnight, and takes about nine hours. Dani had a rough night in coach, with three infants nearby, but Linda and I were able to get some sleep in business (thank you frequent flyer miles) and arrived fairly refreshed.
We checked our bags at the Quay West Suites and walked around downtown Sydney, getting Dani some wake-up coffee, and eventually ending up back at our old favorite place in the Westfield Mall, Chat Thai, for some delicious no-frills Asian food. We also picked up some glassware so we could have a proper cocktail hour in our room with Pamela, and picked up a bottle of her favorite scotch and some Champagne at a vintage wine shop.
Back at the hotel we checked in and discovered this room, number 3601, was even bigger than the one in Hong Kong, with two full bedrooms and an office! The view also rivals that in Hong Kong. I highly recommend Quay West Suites for all Sydney visitors, because of its location and rooms.
You can see the Opera House during the day, and fireworks on some nights. From Dani’s room you can also see the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
For dinner, Linda found an Italian restaurant called Intermezzo that was quite good.
The next day Pamela arrived, and we had a nice time catching up with her. We had a simple lunch as Creperie Suzette and then walked around Circular Quay, bought Opal cards for the ferries and busses, and got Pamela checked into the Four Seasons across the street.
For dinner we walked to Quay, at the end of the quay, overlooking the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Dani and I went here six years ago and weren’t very impressed by this supposedly three-star Michelin restaurant. My opinion is unchanged, but it has a great view!
Of course, the first thing we needed to do in Australia was pet a kangaroo, so the next day we Ubered to Featherdale Wildlife Park (our third visit since 2001). It seems like since our last visit you are a bit more separated from the animals, which as I recall were often climbing into your jacket, but there is still lots to see and do.
We had a forgettable lunch on the way back to Syndey at George’s Gourmet Pizza. For dinner we tried a new place, The Gantry, which is around the end of the point, still in walking distance. They don’t really have much of a view, but the five-course tasting menu was terrific, and about a third the price of Quay!
The next day Pamela checked out to get ready for a lunch she was hosting for us at her country club, and we headed for the Australia Museum. We wanted to take a photo in the same spot as on our previous two visits, to show how Dani has grown, but unfortunately about half the museum is closed for rehab, and we had to settle for a picture in front of the giant sloth.
On Sunday we took the ferry up the Paramatta River to Breakfast Point. It was an absolutely gorgeous day on the river.
We had a delightful lunch with Pamela and her family at the country club, and then stopped briefly at her condo so Linda could see it.
We stopped briefly at her condo, and then took a car back to the city for a pleasant dinner nearby at Sake.
The next day I was ready for a rest and to get caught up on the computer, but Linda and Dani went on a wine excursion to the Hunter Valley.
I’ll let Linda describe that:
Hunter Valley Wine Tasting Private Tour
It was a memorable day but not in a good way.
We had arranged for a 12 hour private wine tour. Our guide turned out to be a well educated, well traveled wine marketing consultant who also could be described as an Alpha Male, opinionated curmudgeon with decidedly misogynistic tendencies. He was well versed in the nuances of the wine industry and had a very good grasp of future emerging markets, new planting strategies with respect to global warming, and a somewhat solid understanding of future consumption projections.
But he was terrifyingly inept at true wine appreciation coupled with an unwavering belief that he knew it all. For those of you who love wine, the following narrative requires no further explanation:
WINE TASTING TECHNIQUES
Don’t smell it first! Just take a small sip and spritz it around in your mouth for 10 seconds sort of like mouthwash to shock you palate. At this point don’t try to think about what it tastes like (I’m not making this up) but just try to make associations (brunch appropriate, light, elegant, etc.).
Then jump to the next wine and do the same thing.
Then you do what any sane person does in the first place. Swirl the wine in the glass and inhale. But do that 3 times. We might have been instructed to do this intermittently with the second wine but I have blocked this out.
I was however chastised for sniffing before I tasted – apparently this interferes with your initial assessment.
The current market buying trends define the market. If you do not agree you are wrong.
Chardonnays and Cabs were popular 20 years ago. If you still like these and particularly if you like these the way they were produced 20 years ago you are really wrong – you are an affront to the new marketing strategies. American oak barrels and malolactic fermentation are so declasse.
Wines are being made better and better every year due to emerging science. So why would you want to drink older wines? If you hang on to them you lose the varietal characteristics and after several years you just end up with “old red wine” (I kid you not). I specifically asked if he would drink the $45 2015 Cab I was guilt buying tonight or if he would he age it for 5 or 10 years – the answer was tonight.
WINE AS AN INVESTMENT
In spite of our friend’s substantial success in out performing the stock market for many years our guide assured us the only way to make money was to buy $10M of a specific wine and to control the market.
On the other hand this guy is 70+ and driving a tour bus and RS is traveling on Emirates first class…
Although it was an early morning, our plane flight from Aukland to Sydney was otherwise painless, and, taking advantage of the two hour time shift, we were in Coogee by 11am. this is the town where Pamela grew up, so I had a strong impression of it from reading her book, but of course it has changed a bit since then,, and we are staying at a beach front resort, the Crowne Plaza. We walked down along the beach enjoying the dramatic waves breaking on the rocks and also the topless bathers, out for one of the first really sunny beach days of the year. At the end of the beach we climbed the rocks and looked down on the next cove, but decided against making the long trek father north to famous Bondi Beach.
Back at the beach we walked up Coogee Bay Road looking for lunch. There were many cafes, but all seemed to fall into two camps: crammed or empty. Figuring there was a reason for both, but not wanting to squeeze into one of the popular ones, we instead ate in the outdoor patio of the Coogee Bay Hotel, where we shared a good Caesar Salad and a fairly awful Cheeseburger.
Then we walked down to the beach, took off our shoes and socks and (having been warned by Bill Bryson’s book, watching carefully for box jelly fish, great white sharks and poisonous cone shells) stepped into the water so that we could say we’d been in the Tasman Sea (or whatever it is here).
That was enough outdoor adventure for one day, and we retreated to our room for a quiet afternoon fiddling with photos and blogs.
For dinner we walked across the street and had Trout and Barramundi on the balcony at Ceviche, overlooking Coogee Beach.
We ended our trip watching the moon rise over the bay.
The next morning we had quite a view from the plane window as we began the 24-hour trek back home.
My final Australia album ended up with 160 favorite photos out of 1400 that we took.
A couple of other trip-related notes:
I signed up for data plans on the iPad and iPhones, The iPhone plan gave us 275MB per month, so we had about 200 for the trip. Neither of us used close to this, but that was because we were really careful. It would have been easy to go over if we’d made more use of maps or the web. I also signed up for 800MB on the iPad. That trend out to be way too much, because I didn’t end up using it for maps, web or blogging. It wouldn’t had been enough for blogging my photos, and its WordPress App is cumbersome, so I ended up buying Internet at most hotels. Hotel internet is expensive, slow, and often data limited, but there’s not much you can do, as free wifi is very rare here.
Dani made a list of “best of” on her blog, and I completely agree, so I’m stealing it to post here, too:
Lunch with Janis and Adriaan on their veranda
Lunch with Pamela’s family
Lunch at Kerry’s dairy farm
Ozzy’s mussel boat in Marlborough Sound
The drive into Milford Sound
The Kiwi Bird Park
T.S.S. Earnslaw’s engine room
Best Breakfast: The Langham
Best Included Meal: toss up between the dairy farm and Kiwi Bird Park
Best Hotel Dinner: The Langham’s 8 buffet stations
The rain caught up to us today, but that was okay, as it gave us an excuse to relax. At noon we walked down Queen Street and found a ma and pa Korean restaurant for a tasty lunch. After lunch we visited the used CD store again, where we challenged each other to find the best CD of an artist we’d never heard of. My choices sucked, but Dani discovered a new singer from Norway named Silje Nergaard who is fantastic. She has 11 albums out, and I ordered a few used from Amazon.
For dinner we walked about 100 feet out the hotel’s back door to an Italian restaurant called Davinci, where we shared a salad, pizza and tiramisu.
On Tuesday, our final day in Auckland, blustery winds blew away the rain for most of the day, and we walked to the art museum. The museum has an awful lot of modern art (or is that a lot of awful modern art?) as well as a gainsborough and a Reynolds, but they also have a newly acquired donation of Picassos, Matisses, Mondrians, Dalis, and others. Most of these were also too modern for our tastes, but we did enjoy some of the paintings in the Victorian gallery.
Of course we had to stop by the University so Dani could get another of those wonderful Chai Lattes. And we had our personal New Zealand Farewell Dinner back at the hotel’s Eight restaurant, where our New Zealand stay began.
On the final day of our Tauck Tour we headed back to Auckland. We’ve had almost perfect weather on the trip, particularly considering that winter is just ending in New Zealand. It seemed that we’ve been ahead of rain almost everywhere, so it was appropriate that it began to rain in Queenstown as we headed out, snapping a last aerial view from the private jet as we flew over.
The flight to Auckland was less than two hours, and then we spent a relaxing afternoon back at the Langham before joining our group for a farewell dinner in the revolving restaurant on top of the 1000 foot SkyTower.
The casino gift shop at the base of the tower had some interesting Hollywood-inspired (but probably not authorized) decorations.
We’ll spend the next two days on our own in Auckland before heading back to Australia.
Today we got to sleep in, because our excursion to the sheep farm didn’t start until almost noon, when we walked across the street to the dock and boarded the TSS (Twin Screw Steamship) Earnslaw, for the 45 minute trip to Walter Peak.
The Earnslaw is a month away from its centennial celebration, but is in perfect shape. In fact, it’s better than new, judging from the old photos we saw of sheep filling what is now a cafe.
The most interesting part of the trip was the engine room, which features a catwalk where you can watch the two steam engines and the stokers shoveling coal into the boilers.
The ship is still completely controlled by those old fashioned levers and bells that relay “full ahead” or “half astern” to the two men manning the controls in the engine room, one set for each side.
In 45 minutes we arrived at the other end of Lake Wakpitu, for a delicious barbecue lunch at Walter Peak Station. New Zealand barbecue is a lot more like US barbecue than Australian barbecue.
After lunch we got to feed various animals, and even held a one-week old lamb.
We also saw an impressive demonstration of a sheep dog rounding up a flock. But the funniest thing was the sheep shearing demonstration. It turns out that when you turn a sheep on its back, its like a turtle, they can turn over. They don’t even flail, just sit their sort of stunned while they’re shorn.
After our return trip we relaxed for a while, and then had a burger at Fergburger, reputed to be the best hamburger place in the world. The long line and crowded tiny interior certainly attested to its popularity, and Dani gave her burger–bun, meat, lettuce, cheese, bacon, aioli, onion, tomato relish, and a slice of pineapple–two thumbs up.
We arrived at the Queenstown airport (actually in Frankton) about 6pm, and as predicted no one was there except security and the janitor. Since our luggage had magically preceded us, we were in Queenstown within minutes.
The Crowne Plaza Queenstown has a great location on the harbor, and our room offers a dramatic view. Full from lunch and tired from a busy day, we did some blogging and hit the sack without dinner. The morning in Queenstown dawned with scattered rain, making for a dramatic panorama from our balcony.
At breakfast I discovered that our arrival in Manapouri had, indeed, made the newspaper.
First stop for the day was at the jet boat ride, but because it was billed as very rough, and there was a cold drizzle, only three of the group wanted to try it. The gorge on the river was a beautiful spot, but it seemed tasteless to me to spoil it with a stupid thrill ride. I’d much rather have simply enjoyed the view, which is what most of the group opted for. Dani shot some good video of the boat’s gyrations, though, which she posted to youtube.
Next stop was Kiwi Bird Park. This is a family run operation that has been dedicated to conservation for twenty-five years. They breed Kiwi birds and other endangered birds for release into the wild.
Owner Paul and zoologist (also) Paul gave us a tour and showed off many of their animals, including a Tuatara, which looks like a lizard, but is apparently its own dinosaur-like branch.
After our tour they prepared a delicious lunch, with home baked bread and grilled, grass-fed rib eye steaks from a producer a couple of hours to the South.
Then owner Paul gave us a preview of his new city tour, a 45-minute drive around Queenstown with an interesting history presentation. We were the first guests to take the tour, but no reporters showed up for this event!
After thanking Paul for his hospitality, we boarded the gondola next door for a ride to the top of Bob’s Peak, 1000 feet above the city.
At the top you can eat in a restaurant, bungee jump, drive a “luge” down one of two courses (and take a ski lift back up to do it again), or shop. We did the latter.
In the morning we caught our same private jet for the flight from Wellington at the tip of the North Island to Manapouri Airport, about two thirds of the way down the South Island. Flight time was less than 90 minutes, and along the way we had a spectacular view of the Southern Alps that divide the West and East sides of the South Island.
Our arrival at Manapouri was fun and funny. We were on the first jet ever to land their (in the past Tauck has used Convair prop planes). So the entire town seemed to be out to greet us! Even the kindergarten got the day off.
Fire engines sprayed water over the plane, and a reception line headed by the mayor and other officials greeted us on the runway.
A bagpiper (!) played, photos and video were taken, gift bags and flowers were distributed, and we were apparently on the 6pm news and in the South Island newspaper. I need to practice my royal wave.
After that exciting reception, we boarded a coach and headed for Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest, which comprises most of the Southwest corner of the country.
The trip was one of transition. We started in pine forest and sandy river beds.
Soon we were in alpine territory, with frequent avalanche warning signs and snow everywhere.
Then we crested the “continental divide” and were almost immediately in a temperate rainforest as lush as any tropical rainforest. What an astonishingly sudden change!
After winding down a torturous, snow-banked and boulder strewn road and through an impressive (10% grade) 1km long tunnel, we emerged at Milford sound. It’s not really a sound (sea-filled river valley) but rather a fjord (glacier-carved valley with a moraine at the end). Our 90 minute boat ride included a nice buffet lunch in a private area of the ship, and some great views, although there weren’t a lot of the waterfalls the sound is known for, because they turn on and off with the rain. It’s the only time I’ve been on vacation and wished for rain!
We spotted seven seals sleeping on Seal Rock (of course) and a large pod of perhaps a dozen dolphins frolicked around the boat for some time. Then we retraced our path to Manapouri airport for a fifteen minute hop to Queenstown.
While Dani had dinner with her friend Laura, I went across the street from our hotel and had a solo dinner at Martin Bosley’s, which has been voted New Zealand’s best restaurant. The emphasis here is on fish, which is appropriate, given their singular location on the harbor.
My meal was as good as any on this trip, including the Michelin three-stars in Sydney. In fact, it was in my top ten ever. I had the Menu Degustation with matching wines. Nearly all the course were a home run, especially. When there were several elements on one plate. And the wine pairings were perfect, the best wines I’ve had on this trip, and all perfect matches. Service was professional but friendly, and the owner came by to say hello at the end of the evening.
Although I didn’t get a copy of the menu (in fact, there wasn’t one for the Menu Degustation), here are my recollections:
Amuse bouche of salmon with salmon foam and candied rosemary
Blue nose sashimi (tartare) with mandarin orange oil and purée, and dehydrated (freeze dried) mandarin orange wedge
Porcini Mushroom and cinnamon meringue with duck pate and apple cube. Wow!
Crab & cocoanut risotto with salmon eggs! And I hate risotto, but not this.
Wellington certainly deserves its nickname as the windy capital. As the world’s southernmost capital city, it was surprisingly warm today–mid fifties–but a constant breeze made a good jacket a requirement.
The day dawned with scattered drizzles, a contrast to last night’s ultra-clear weather, but by mid morning it began to clear off.
We spent our morning touring the city by bus, with a stop for a viewpoint atop a western ridge. Along the road up was one of the spots where a forest chase scene was filmed for Lord of the Rings, and the dense trees looked familiar.
Our second stop was New Zealand’s parliament building, a complex of three radically different buildings (two and a half, really, as the middle one was never fully built out).
Then we took the cable car to the top of the eastern ridge, and the botanical garden. But rather than enter the garden here, we drove back down to the other side, where we spent our time in the warm greenhouse building and visited the peace flame, where a waterfall and pool of green algae made fascinating patterns.
In the late morning we rode to the Quay and had a beer tasting of two local brews, a pilsner that was light and lemony, and a somewhat more complex bitter. They were both okay, but I bought a glass of stout that we shared around the table, and it was better than either of the two free offerings.
Next door to the brew pub was Te Papa, the national museum of New Zealand. This is probably the best cultural museum I’ve been to. The displays were extremely sophisticated, and the place was busy with school kids who were thoroughly engaged.
We had a private tour by a Maori guide named “T.” He was excellent. My favorite display was an interactive floor with an arial photo of New zealand. When you stepped on places, a zig zag line lit up on the floor, leading to a backlit projection on the wall from that place. In addition to video, these pictures included photos emailed to them by guests, and geotagged with that location. Neat!
In the room next door was an image capture station that allowed you to snap you picture and then manipulate it–and everyone else’s–on a giant wall display using a flashlight-like wand. You could resize, tilt and move the photos, or even send them careening around the room for others to play with.
There were also extensive displays of New Zealand’s flora and fauna, both current and historic, and Maori and immigrant cultures and history. Dani’s friend Laura met her during the tour and they went off to spend the day together.
After the tour I walked up to Cuba Street and had lunch in a French Cafe name Le Metropolitain. It was quite authentic; I had pork rillet on sour dough with cornichons and a mesclun salad with chicken livers.
For dinner I dined alone right across the street at Martin Bosley, voted New Zealand’s top restaurant. I’ll put that in a separate post.
At the Rotorua airport we caught our private charter jet for the 45 minute flight to the South Island. This is the way to travel!
The 100-seat British Aerospace BAe 146-200 was pretty spacious with only 17 of us! The four person flight crew (pilot, co-pilot, steward and stewardess) will be with us throughout the week.
In half an hour we had traversed the remaining length of the North Island and passed over Cook Sound. I’m used to things looking closer on the map than in real life, so I was surprised to discover we could see both the North and South Islands out of the same airplane window; they’re quite close. In a few more minutes we touched down at Blenheim Airport in the midst of New Zealand’s Marlborough region. Our coach for the day was waiting for us five steps from the base of the jet’s stairs.
This is the country’s main wine-growing region, and we were surrounded by vineyards, mostly planted to Sauvignon Blanc. There were also sheep (sometimes in the vineyards), cattle, and deer farms. A half hour’s drive brought us to the marina where we boarded a ship for our Marlborough Sound excursion.
The water was quite placid, and the three person crew (Coach Driver/First Mate Ryan, Captain Aussie and Chef Hamish) kept us amused for an hour or so as we made our way to a mussel field.
There we learned how the mussels are cultivated and harvested.
It’s a complex process that involves recovering the mussels three different times, to spread them out and seed them onto ropes that hang down thirty feet into the water.
Then we had a chance to eat our fill of freshly steamed ones in delicious dipping sauces. (Dani says “yuck.”)
Lunch followed, great salad, salmon and ham. The salmon was cooked on an on-deck grill, atop a sheet of Teflon. I hadn’t seen this before, but it’s really practical, as there’s no cleanup.
Excellent wines were poured from Framingham Vineyards. The Sauvignon Blanc was great with the mussels, and the Chardonnay with the salmon. I also tried a red from them made from an Italian varietal I hadn’t seen in New Zealand before.
On the way back we sat next to Captain Aussie and enjoyed chatting with him about the business, and how he came from Oz to NZ for a month trip 25 years ago and has never gone back. It’s clear they all love the area and their jobs.
The return plane trip was just as effortless, and even shorter, within 20 minutes we were in Wellington. The Capthorne Hotel on Oriental Bay is much nicer than the previous two NZ hotels. The two beds are in separate areas on opposite sides of the bathroom, which is quite practical. And the view from the balcony is great.
The weather has been delightful. I zipped the liner into my leather jacket this morning, then never even put the jacket on all day. Apparently we’ve been very lucky, as Wellington doesn’t have the greatest reputation for weather.
While Dani worked on her blog, I went out for a walk around the area, and did one of my favorite activities in a foreign country: visiting the supermarket.
Dinner tonight was in the hotel’s dining room, One 80, on the seventh floor, one above our room. It was pretty good, but not quite as good as our previous hotel meals.
We departed from Auckland this morning for our drive across half of the northern island that comprises New Zealand. After a rest stop for some honeycomb and vanilla ice cream (who says 9:30 is too early for ice cream?) we stopped in Matamata for a photo op at the sign declaring it Hobbiton. This is near where they filmed The Lord of the Rings, but the demolished the Hobbiton sets after that movie was made. Now they’ve rebuilt them for the filming of The Hobbit, and not surprisingly they will leave them intact this time as a tourist attraction.
Lunch was at Longlands farm, where we had an interesting tour of the dairy facility and a delicious lunch of lamb. The owner was a delightful host, who described how the 180 acre farm with 240 cows is operated by just three people: him, his wife, and a hired hand. The cows are rotated through 40 separate fields every 2o days, and unlike other country’s dairy farms, require almost no feed other than the grass, and no barn, due to the favorable climate. They’re milked twice a day, and find their own way to and from each field, according to the way the gates are set. Very impressive.
Our next stop was at Whakarewarewa (pronounced fuck-a-roo-a-roo-a) for a Maori cultural presentation and a tour of the property which comprised an exhibit of two kiwi birds (they’re the size of bowling balls), the boiling mud pools, and a geyser (dubbed “old unfaithful”).
New Zealanders’ relationship with their indigenous people is different than everywhere else I’ve been. Their culture is a valued part of society, and rather than being treated as a minority, they seem to be valued as an important part of New Zealand life.
We stopped in front of the Victorian looking Rotorua Baths to take a group photos.
After a short drive we arrived at Amora Resort on the smaller of the two lakes at Rotorua, for a one night stay. The hotel is a two story building, and our room opens out onto the lawn that slopes down to the lake.
After a pleasant dinner in the dining room we retired for a rest after our busy day.
For our first day on the Tauck tour we met our group at the bus at 8:15 and headed to the ferry dock for the 40 minute trip to Waiheke Island. The island is a beautifully unspoiled place, with 8500 residents who live on the lush hills overlooking more than 50 coves, each with its own sandy beach, and separated by dramatic headlands. Across the bay Auckland sparkled in the intermittent sunshine. Some of the hills are planted to vineyards, and others to olive trees, but much of the vegetation is indigenous, replanted when the island was converted from farming to tourism in the 80s and 90s.
A local coach driver picked us up at the dock and gave us a guided tour. Our first stop was at Rangihoua Estate, an olive grower. There was an interesting tour of how the olives are harvested, crushed, and the oil centrifugally extracted. This was followed by an olive oil tasting. It was interesting to compare the four different kinds, made identically from different olives.
Next we visited Mudbrick Winery for a delightful lunch, accompanied by a tasting of four of their wines: Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, a Merlot/Cab blend, and a Shiraz. I was impressed that Dani correctly identified all four by smell alone, while I had two reversed. Pretty impressive considering we weren’t even told what they might be.
Our touring companions are a sociable bunch, if not exactly gourmands, and we enjoyed the lunch conversation.
After lunch I tried the reserve tasting in the cellar door (as they call the tasting rooms here) and ordered some wine shipped to the US. These were, on the whole, better wines than we had in the Hunter Valley, and it will be fun to have something you can’t get in the US.
Then we returned to the dock for the ferry trip back Auckland. Our driver, Andy, dropped the two of us on Parnell Street where we did a bit of shopping, waited out a light drizzle (mostly) in one of about a hundred coffee shops (Esquire, a Starbucks-like chain) and then walked about a mile back to the hotel through a large park and recreation area called the Domain.
Today I had breakfast while Dani slept in, enjoying her last completely unscheduled day before we join our tour. We walked a mile or so down Queen street to the Quay, stopping on the way to buy ten used CDs in a funky music and clothing store, while we waited out a morning shower. After the rain stopped the weather was beautiful.
We walked back a different way that took us through the University of Aukland where Dani spoke at length with someone in their International Studies office. It’s a nice campus.
One of the many places to eat on campus was the Relax Lounge, where we shared a scone and Dani had a chai tea that she really, really, really liked.
We had a pleasant dinner in the hotel’s Italian restaurant, Barolo, where we met our tour director, Renee, who is from New Orleans and seems nice. There are 17 people of this leg of the tour, five couples and seven women.
After breakfast at the Four Seasons, where Dani got one last Crumpet, a new favorite, we headed to the airport and out flight to Auckland, New Zealand.
New Zealand is really into rugby, and the rugby World Cup is going to be on in Auckland while we’re in New Zealand, so I expect things to get a little crazy. Actually, they’re already a little crazy. The passenger safety video on Air New Zealand was a hilarious skit involving the New Zealand rugby team and a naked grandmother running up and down the aisle of the plane! No problem getting people to watch this safety presentation.
Our hotel, The Langham, is a five star, but in an older building. It’s quite nice. It certainly has the most impressive assortment of “room condiments” I’ve seen. Nestled in a box in the bathroom were smaller boxes of almost anything you can imagine needing:
It will be a severe test of Dani’s room condiment kleptomania.
The Langham has two restaurants, a fancy Italian one called Barolo and the more casual Eight. We chose Eight, and really enjoyed the concept.
There are eight station in the kitchen, each preparing a different type of food: sushi, salads, Indian, grilled skewers, French breads and cheeses, desserts, and so on. The stations are quite elaborate. For example, we asked for garlic naan bread at the Indian one, and he pounded the bread and cooked it in a tandoor right in front of us. Needless to say, it was fantastic.
The sushi was also quite good, as was anything involving raw or smoked fish. We didn’t try the grill.
If this restaurant were in Orlando, it would be Linda’s favorite because of this simple fact: There are stacks of papadums within ten feet of an assortment of twenty elaborate sushi rolls.
Our concierge suggested we add Testsuya’s to our list of dining adventures in Sydney, and Pamela’s relatives all said we’d like it best. They were right. This is the restaurant that should have three Michelin stars.
It’s located in a Japanese-styled house near Chinatown. The dining rooms look out onto a Zen garden, providing a restful backdrop—although soon all the tables are filled, so it’s not exactly quiet!
Service here is friendly but much more professional than at the other restaurants where we dined this week. Most interesting to me was that no menu was presented at the start of the meal. Our server simply asked if there was anything we didn’t like, or any allergies, and then we put ourselves in his hands for the nine courses that followed. Nearly all of them were stellar. My favors were:
Amuse bouche of potato soup with coddled quail egg. We started with a bang, as this simple espresso cup of soup had all manner of complex flavors, and was much more than the sum of its parts.
Tetsuya’s signature dish of ocean trout. Perfectly cooked, with a savory coating of herbs, and delicious unpasteurized roe.
Bread and butter pudding. I was shocked that this was my favorite of the four sweet items served as two dessert courses, because I’m not a bread pudding fan, but this was very complex, and the embedded golden raisin were scrumptious. It also perfectly matched an impressive Tokay from Australia.
Speaking of matches, I had nine perfectly matched wines with my courses, but Pamela and Dani opted for individual glasses of wine. It was Dani’s first opportunity to order her own wine, and Pamela also put herself in Dani’s hands, and they had four very interesting and thoughtfully choses wines. For the record, Dani’s first selection, to accompany the seafood dishes, was a Spanish Albarino.
I felt guilty that Pamela insisted on paying for this meal, but it was wonderful to spend our last night in Sydney together, and the meal was that much better for the wonderful company.
Earlier in the day Dani and I walked down to the Rocks and dropped our laundry off at a place that changes a flat fee to wash, fold and deliver back to our hotel. Convenient!
Then we walked several miles through the city and Chinatown, over to the University of Sydney, where we had lunch, wandered around the campus, and Dani spoke with a nice gentleman from the International Studies office. She collected a lot of useful information about study abroad, graduate and medical school options. I can see where it would be very tempting to spend a few years—or a lifetime—in beautiful Sydney! We’re sad to be leaving.
Our driver, Trevor, picked us up early for the 100 mile drive to Jenolan Caves. The caves are in the Blue Mountains, southwest of Sydney. Along the way we stopped near Leura, where Pamela used to live, to see the view. Trevor took us to the end of a dirt road and we walked out onto Flat Rock. watch out for that 800 foot drop–there’s no guard rail! The swirling fog made everything mysterious. Then it was on to the caves.
Our tour was of Orient Cave, the most spectacular. Certainly this was the best cave I’ve ever seen. Just as the Great Barrier Reef ruins you for other snorkeling, this cave has probably made it pointless to visit any others! The 90 minute guided tour was well done, and the 358 steps were easily negotiated. They’ve done a nice job of developing this cave without ruining it.
Afterwards we had a quick bite on the veranda of the cafe, where the King Parrots came and begged for crumbs.
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at Featherdale Animal Park, where Dani got to pet many kangaroos, wallabies and a Koala. It’s a nice park, the same one we visited in 2001.
For dinner we took Trevor’s recommendation and ate at a small cafe near our hotel, called Fish at the Rocks. It was quite good.
We spent a delightful day at the Sydney Zoo, courtesy of Pamela. It’s just a short ferry ride across Sydney Harbour from Circular Quay. It’s a great zoo, and the animals were very cooperative, standing where we could see them! The weather was perfect for strolling the steep grounds, low 70s and a light breeze.
I cancelled out dinner reservation at Est. because it seemed too similar to meals we’d already been non-plussed by, and instead we returned to Chat Thai for a delicious and somewhat adventurous Thai dinner. Although the Westfield mall and its other restaurants were deserted, Chat Thai was packed, so it was a good thing we got there early.
Quay (pronounced “key”) is a three-star Michelin restaurant that has been voted best restaurant in Australia and Asia. It’s on the third floor of the Overseas Passenger Terminal at Circular Quay, and has a spectacular view of the Harbour Bridge and the Opera House. Dani and I stopped by on our afternoon walk to check it out, and then returned for dinner at 6pm.
The setting is stunning, with a 270 degree view of Circular Quay, the Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge.
We opted for the eight course tasting menu, with eight matching wines. There are two wine options, classic and premium, so we selected one of each, enabling us to sample 16 wines. The classic offering was almost entirely from Australia and New Zealand, while the premium was mostly European.
Service was attentive and friendly, with nearly every course presented by a different, personable server. Our sommelier was from Germany, and she provided a detailed description of the origin and characteristics of each wine.
The wines were the highlight of the meal. There were only two we didn’t care for. The premium wines were always better, but in two cases the classic wines matched the food better.
There was one standout course, something neither of us would have ordered had it not been on the tasting menu: pig jowl with a maltose crackling crust, served on cauliflower and prune purees. I know, it sounds awful. But it was one of those dishes where each individual ingredient tasted fine, but the combination of all four was a home run, something entirely different. And we both loved the wine pairing of 2007 Domaine de L’Arjolle ‘Lyre’ from Pouzolles, France. It was like Yquem without all the sweetness. I need to get some of this.
The food was good, but for the most part not what I consider Michelin three star. Certainly Eleven Madison Park has nothing to worry about. But the meal was much better than Becasse.
As dinner ended we were treated to a fireworks show in the harbour, and then had a short walk back to our hotel through The Rocks. There were still lots of people celebrating Australia’s rugby win, spilling from bars out into the refreshing evening air.
We spent a pleasant day at the Australia Museum, which has upgraded their video projection since our last visit ten years ago. Their insect and mineral collections are really extensive, although it’s the dinosaurs that draw the kids.
Dani points out that ten years of waiting to go for a walk have really taken a toll on the dog:
On the way back to the hotel we stopped at McDonald’s to see if the food was different than in the US, and it was (I guess–it’s been years since I ate at McDonald’s). They have a Grand Angus burger that’s sort of like the old McDLT, and you can (“for a limited time”) get a shaker bag and seasoning for your fries. The seasoning tasted like Shake ‘n Bake.
Portions of this entry were originally written by Dani for her blog.
Rockpool Bar & Grill is a short walk from the Four Seasons Hotel. It’s a beautiful room, which looks like it may have been a bank in another life. There are wine glasses everywhere!
The menu is extensive, with an emphasis on wood stove and rotisserie. Dani had rotisserie chicken and I had rotisserie lamb shoulder. Both were excellent, but the lamb was better. However the side items stole the show: melt-in-your-mouth brussels sprouts and roasted parsnips. We don’t know why parsnips aren’t more popular in the US, they’re like sweet potatoes, only with better mouth feel.
Rockpool is pretty expensive. It was a challenge finding a wine for less than $100, and most were over $200. That said, there are at least a thousand selections on the impressive winelist, including many selections of Petrus going back to 1900 (Ka-ching!).
The “petit fours”weren’t what you’d expect. One was a chocolate devils food cake cupcake and the other was slabs of dark chocolate bark with sesame seeds and cashews.
“Bar & Grill” is a strange moniker for this restaurant, because it’s not really the casual experience that summons up. I suppose it’s called that to differentiate it from the higher-end Rockpool near our hotel. That one had a menu that involved too many thing that really do come from tide pools, so I’m glad we chose this one. It was definitely a better meal than the one we had at Becasse.
A more extensive version of this entry was written by Dani for her blog.
After breakfast we went to Circular Quay, and the same wharf where we met Pamela to catch a ferry to her neighborhood. The water taxi service is incredibly reasonable. An adult one-way ferry ticket is only $5.60. The ferries run on a timetable, much like a train system.
The ferry we took had an open deck on top. We sat up there on our ride to Breakfast Point, where Pamela and her youngest son live. This morning dawned foggy, but by the time we got on the ferry enough had burned off for us to enjoy the view.
We departed Circular Quay (pronounced ‘key’) at 9:40 and arrived at Cabarita by 10:20. The journey took us through Darling Harbor, and a half dozen stops, none of which took more than a minute. Along the way we passed lots of interesting houses, a campground, and the Luna Park amusement park.
Pamela met us at the dock and drove us to her condo, a beautiful new buildings. The building had all the latest security, including electronic key fobs required to open any of the outside doors and which only take the elevator to your own floor.
Pamela’s apartment is beautifully decorated. All the furniture is white and bright, which makes the apartment seem light and airy. She has two bedrooms, a very practical kitchen, and a little study.
She also has art everywhere, more than half of it was done by her friends. Many of the pieces were by mountain artists, and all had a story to go with them.
We chatted for a bit, admiring Pamela’s view (which unfortunately is becoming restricted by a new building going up in front of the river). A call from Andrew’s prompted us to walk to his nearby building. His 8th floor corner unit has an even more spectacular view of Sydney in the distance. At Andrew’s we got to meet all of Pamela’s family: her two sons, Brett and Andrew; Brett’s wife, Sandy; their children, Emma and Simon; Andrew’s wife, Wendy; and their daughter Karina.
Andrew and Wendy provided a delightful lunch. They had set up an enormous table, with so many different delicious foods. Andrew barbecued delicious Wagyu sausages, eggs, and bacon. Wendy had beautiful quiches, pastries and preserves.
And the conversation was wonderful; we immediately felt like part of the family. We talked about the differences in food, politics and culture between the states and Australia, theme park projects, and the differences in the university system.
After a lovely, several hours long lunch and conversation, Pamela, Andrew and Karina gave us a tour of the club house and then escorted us along the paths back to the ferry, where we caught the 4:15 to Circular Quay. Dark clouds in the East provided a dramatic backdrop for the setting sun behind us, turning Sydney into a city of gold. We stood on the prow of the ferry on the way in, and the sights were even more beautiful than during the morning.
Today we went to the Hunter Vally wine country. This was exciting for Dani because it was her first time on a wine tour someplace where she’s over the legal drinking age.
At 8:30 we met both Pamela and our guide/driver for the day, Trevor. Trevor loaded us into a fairly comfortable four wheel drive SUV and set off for wine country. There was some confusion over names at first (Trevor started calling Pamela “Barbara,” and she started calling him “Henry”) but after the first few kilometers everyone was properly sorted.
The drive up was very scenic, even though we kept on the main highway to save time. Large swaths had been cut through sandstone mountains to make room for the road in spots. When we asked Trevor why one side of the bluff had so much water running down it and the other side was bone dry, he proved very knowledgeable and explained how water collected on internal deposits of clay and lime stone, only to trickle out. The other side was dry because it got the brunt of the sun everyday and dried out quickly after rainfall.
Trevor was very knowledgeable about everything from wine, to geography, to history. We’re looking forward to our trip up to the Blue Mountains with him on Tuesday.
We arrived in wine country by 11:00 and Trevor knew his way around brilliantly. Our first stop was Audrey Wilkinson. They had several very nice whites, including a semillon and a very nice lightly-oaked chardonnay with a nose that smelled smoky, almost like a smoked sausage. The reds were a little disappointing, more a sour cherry style than the big Aussie fruit bombs we expected.
The view from the winery was spectacular. The “cellar door” (in the US it would be called a tasting room) was on top of a hill overlooking the valleys on both sides. Trevor told us that during the summer when there are lots of leaves on the vines to provide shade, kangaroos come out and lie in the vineyards on the slope.
After that we went to Brokenwood winery. This was a very nice winery and the girl at the counter was very knowledgeable about exactly where the grapes for the various wines were grown, what kind of soil they grew in, and what that did for the flavor/smell of the wine. She poured us lots of different wines to compare. Brokenwood was also nice because they have a US distributor, which means that we could actually order some wine shipped home.
After Brokenwood we took a break from wine and went to “The Smelly Cheese Shop.”
As it turned out, it wasn’t actually that smelly (all the cheese had been wrapped up). We selected some triple cream brie to take to Pamela’s cousin’s for lunch. Her cousin, Janis, and her husband Adriaan had graciously invited us over for lunch.
They live on a unique property. It is a residential winery. Everyone who lives there owns a share of the grapes produced. Their house was just lovely. The view was beautiful, Adriaan’s garden was in full bloom, even in winter, and their kitchen reminded us of ours at home. Janis set a table outdoors on the patio in the shade. The weather was just perfect for an outdoor lunch, 70s and a light breeze.
Janis downplayed her cooking, saying lunch was “only a light salad” but what she made was so tasty! The salad had prawns, pineapple, lychee fruit, cucumber, diced red onions, avocado, mayonnaise, mustard, cream, and a dash of olive oil. It was just delicious. This was accompanied by fresh seeded bread from the market in Cessnoch and a selection of cheeses. Adriaan opened a couple of bottles of wine from their winery, Kelman, which were just delightful and refreshing (a semillon and a semillon/sauvignon blanc).
We only had an hour to spend with Janis and Adriaan, but they were simply lovely people. Janis is originally from Australia but Adriaan is actually Dutch, though he grew up in Brussels. They met while Janis was traveling, married, and lived in Banyuls France. About five years ago they moved back to Australia and built their house on the winery. Now they’re thinking of moving in closer to Sydney, though they still love their winery.
Trevor collected us again and took us to two more wineries, Pepper Tree and Tower Winery. Pepper Tree was in a lovely spot, but their wines were the weakest offerings of the day (although they had a well structured merlot).
Tower had some shiraz that was a bit bigger, but we finally decided that the Hunter Valley style is simply lighter. In fact, our discovery of the day was that Hunter Valley’s styles for all their varietals is very consistent from one winery to the next. A semillon from Audrey Wilkinson tastes very similar to a semillon from Tower, and so on.
The traffic getting back into Sydney in the afternoons can be beastly, so Trevor warned us that we needed to leave the valley by about 2:30. We dropped Pamela off at her new apartment on Breakfast point, just north of Sydney, and then returned to the hotel.
Trevor will be taking us to the Blue Mountains next Tuesday. We were struck by how he didn’t require us to pay for today’s excursion, but just shrugged and said we could pay for both next week. It’s a great country.
For dinner we walked a few blocks over towards The Rocks, a trendy shopping and dining district, and sat outside under the heaters, sharing an Italian salad and Marguerita Pizza.
We met Pamela in the lobby at 5:30 and headed over to Bécasse for dinner. The restaurant recently relocated from a 90 seat location to a 24 seat spot in an upscale mall. After passing through a wrought iron door threaded with ivy and then walking down an exceedingly long hallway decorated with trees whose seasons changed, we approached the main seating area.
The room was cozy, plush, and a bit avante garde. Service was friendly rather than formal.
Pamela had never had a tasting menu before, but we talked her into the nine course menu degustation, which turned out to be 12 courses with 12 matching wines. She acquitted herself quite well.
The food was frankly a bit disappointing. While each plate was beautiful, and the individual ingredients were exotic and interesting, no dish ever combined to be more than the sum of its parts. There were no home runs.
Nevertheless, it was a delightful meal, with great conversation and a relaxed atmosphere.
Many hours later we strolled home, enjoying the cool night air.
Circular Quay (prounounced “kee”) is the waterfront area next to the Sydney Opera House. It’s just a block from our hotel, and we met our friend Pamela there, where she arrived from her house by one of the River Cat ferries. After she checked in we went for a long walk past the Opera House, Government House and up to the Museum of Sydney, where we had lunch in their outdoor cafe. It was a beautiful day, short sleeved shirt weather, and the water was crystal blue. Hard to believe it’s winter when you’re slathering on sunscreen!
Kable’s is the fine dining restaurant at the our hotel, the Four Seasons Sydney. Although the hotel has a spectacular view of the Opera House and Sydney Harbour, Kable’s, surprisingly, doesn’t, as it is located on the mezzanine of the lobby. (I’ve included some views from our room instead.)
After our long night and a busy day walking around town, we decided to take advantage of the proximity of Kable’s, and had a lovely dinner. The menu consists of fair-sized tasting plates, with an emphasis on sashimi and other fish dishes with Asian-influenced preparations. Although there is an umpteen course tasting menu with matching wines, it’s also a good place for a light meal, with each plate costing just $15.
Once the sun turned the corner of the building we opened our blind and found a lovely view of the Sydney Opera House from our room on the 28th floor of the Four Seasons. Refreshed by our showers, we went out and walked the city, ending up at the Sydney Aquarium, which we remembered enjoying on our previous visit. It’s a pretty good aquarium, and the only place I’ve seen a platypus, which is truly an animal assembled by a committee.
Afterwards, we wandered back into the business district looking for lunch and stumbled into an upscale mall that turned out to contain the restaurant we’re going to tomorrow night. It also had a lot of other good restaurants included one that was really jammin’: Chat Thai. It was very inventive, and quite reasonably priced.
It takes 22 hours to fly from Orlando to Sydney, Australia. That may sound like a long time, but Dani and I discovered that if you have the right seat, it actually isn’t too bad. The sun set as we took off, and was just rising as we landed in Sydney, twenty-two hours–and two days–later. Essentially, we chased the moon for a day, all the way across the international date line.
It’s easy to forget how much better International service is than domestic, even on the same airline. Our first class flight from Orlando to LAX was the usual tired plane, big seat, pretty mediocre food. But the flight to Sydney was a delight. Using frequent flyer miles, I booked us on Delta in their Business Elite section from Los Angeles to Sydney. The new 777-200LD planes are great, and the Business Elite section has seats that are like little rooms that fully recline into a flat bed. There are large pullout tray tables and touch screen monitors, and even a USB jack for charging stuff. Dinner was a tasty, multi-course affair with five spice seared tuna sashimi, a delicious salad, short ribs, and a 2001 Rioja.
Another plus of Business Elite is they give you fast passes for customs and immigration (a program being tested by the Australian government) so we were in and out of the airport in no time. A driver met us and took us to the Four Seasons Hotel, our home base for the next eight days. Time for a shower!
I’ve always wanted to visit Australia, both to see a new continent, and to better understand the market for audio, video, lighting and show control products, there. So when I heard that our Australian distributor, EAV Technology, would be exhibiting at the SMPTE (Society of Motion Picture and Television Engineers) Convention in July, and that David Geoghegan, our Director of Sales had a conflict with another trade show, I decided to make the trip and check things out. Researching airfares on the web, I stumbled upon a promotion that seemed unbelievable. For less than the normal price of a round trip airfare, Qantas was offering two weeks in Australia, including airfare between Los Angeles and Sydney and connections to Cairns and Melbourne, plus four nights of accommodations in each. Although they called it the Australia Stop Dreaming “Tour”, it wasn’t really a tour because we could leave any day that we wanted. But it was certainly priced like a tour — lower, even. Just $1599 complete. This is less than the US to Australia airfare alone. A $400 upgrade to the deluxe hotel category also seemed a bargain. So that’s how Linda, Danielle and I came to be heading for Australia in July.
Tuesday, July 3, 2001
With Linda busy on projects at Disney, Danielle and I took advantage of our first stop being Los Angeles to spend some time with her grandparents. We caught the afternoon non-stop from Orlando, and arrived in time to meet them for dinner at El Cholo.
But first we checked in to our hotel, the St. Regis in Century City. In keeping with the bargain theme of this trip, I’d found a deal on Expedia that offered this hotel at about $200 a night — a bit of a discount from their normal $500-$5000 a night room rates.
The St. Regis is one of the nicest hotels I’ve stayed in, and has some of the best staff. It’s the top of the line for the Starwood Resort company, and is positioned above their Westin chain. There’s butler service, the valets remember your name, and the touchscreen telephone controls the entire room, including the lighting.
Expedia also found us a deal on a rental car — my first experience with Thrifty, and overall a good one.
So by 9:00 pm we were settled in for Nachos and a Combination Number One at El Cholo. Danielle lasted pretty well considering it was past midnight our time, but by the end of the meal she was ready to sleepwalk back to the hotel.
Wednesday, July 4, 2001
Our Independence Day started with room service breakfast on our balcony overlooking the construction site next to the Century Plaza. Then Danielle exercised some genes that she didn’t get from either parent by shopping for jeans at Macy’s, across the street. They were on sale!
Actually the shopping served two purposes. It got Danielle some red jeans to complete her red, white and blue Fourth of July outfit, and killed a couple of hours until noon, when Grandpa and Grandma are up and around. I brought them lunch from El Pollo Loco — the second in a long line of west-coast-only foods that we had on our agenda.
In the afternoon I left Danielle to play with Marjorie and Dean and headed out to the San Fernando Valley to Frye’s Electronics to pick up a 128MB Smart Media Card that they had on sale for an absurdly low price. I was expecting them to be “just out”, but to my surprise, they had plenty, at less than half the going rate, and with a free USB reader. Frye’s is huge. No, it’s HUGE. I honestly found it somewhat overwhelming, with row after row of everything from PCB making supplies to motherboards to books to chips to stereos to adult DVDs to vacuum cleaners (these last two were in separate sections). Note to Grace: we should check into Frye’s as a wholesale source of PC-Card media.
On the way back to the McBrides’ house I stopped at several stores and picked up a cooler, thermos, and food for a picnic dinner. Then we all headed to the Hollywood Bowl, for an evening Pops concert in box seats that Linda had bought for us.
It was a shame that Linda couldn’t join us. It’s always special being under the stars on a balmy night, enjoying great music and the magic of this historical venue. The fireworks that capped off the performance were truly spectacular, the best-synchronized performance I’ve seen.
Thursday, July 5, 2001
More west-coast foods checked off the list. We made a breakfast stop at Stan’s corner doughnut shop in Westwood for the world’s best blueberry buttermilk doughnuts, then hit Shakey’s Pizza for Mojo potatoes. The latter we catered to the McBride’s for lunch, then headed out for a short day at Knott’s Berry Farm, arriving about 3pm.
Mystery Lodge, the world’s best Pepper’s Ghost effect, was the highlight of the visit. The show, designed by BRC Imagination Arts, and using Alcorn McBride control and audio equipment, is based upon a show that Linda helped them do for the GM pavilion at Expo 86 in Vancouver. In this improved version, a live-action Native American wanders about a long house, summoning up images out of the smoking firepit, and disappearing and reappearing at will. At the end of the show he slowly fades from view, leaving only his walking stick, which finally falls to the ground. Neat.
At Knott’s Danielle got to pan for gold, we rode the old but still fun Calico Mine train, and the log flume. We also lost money on many redemption games.
Fortunately the chicken dinner restaurant was very crowded, so afterward we headed up the freeway to Burbank, and The Smokehouse Restaurant. Located directly across from the Burbank Studios, for fifty years this otherwise average restaurant has been packing them in with the world’s best garlic cheese bread. I grew up going with my folks to their now-defunct location in Encino almost every weekend. It’s still as good as ever.
Friday, July 6, 2001
A morning drive through Hollywood, and breakfast at Jack-in-the-Box (another one of those west-coast places). Danielle was amazed at the Hollywood Jack-in-the-Box, with its bullet-proof barrier between the employees and the guests, and a double-doored box to pass the food between. Welcome to Hollywood.
We spent a quiet day at the McBrides’. I think everyone was tired after their outing to Knotts’. Lunch was from Carl’s Junior (you guessed it, another one of those you-know-what). In the early evening Danielle and Marjorie baked brownies while I went to the airport to pick up Linda. After a brief stop at our hotel we all headed to Lawry’s, the time-honored prime rib Mecca of Restaurant Row.
Lawry’s has moved across La Cienega Boulevard from its location of many years. What’s really disconcerting is that the new building, inside, anyway, is virtually identical to the old one — floor plan, decor, everything. Weird. Prime rib is still served from what Ruth Riechl, the restaurant critic, once described as “silver-plated rolling coffins”. It’s still as good as ever, although I found the portions a bit skimpy.
Danielle spent the night at the McBrides’, her last chance for a sleep-over this trip.
Saturday, July 7, 2001
Linda and I stopped by El Cholo for lunch, since she’d missed her opportunity for the world’s best Mexican food on Tuesday night. Then we spent a quiet afternoon at the McBrides’. Very quiet for me, as I fell asleep on the floor of the living room. It’s not that I hadn’t been getting enough sleep, but the weather this trip was so hot and humid — even more so than in Florida — that I found it really took the wind out of my sails. I guess I’m just used to living in air-conditioning.
In the late afternoon we headed up the coast to Malibu, and Duke’s restaurant. Now named after a Hawaiian surfer, the place started out in the 1930s as The Sea Lion. In fact, at one time there was a pool in front with live sea lions. When I was a child we used to drive up the coast on Saturday afternoons for dinner. I remember watching the waves crash against the plate glass windows, especially in the bar. A few winters ago they did a bit too much crashing, and broke all the windows. So now there’s a rocky barrier, and no more splashing.
Sunday, July 8, 2001
This will be a long day. Up early, packed, checked out, breakfast at McDonald’s (certainly not a west-coast-only thing, but I can’t imagine a large chorizo breakfast burrito with HOT jalapeno sauce in Florida) and we’re off to the airport for our Qantas flight. Departing at 1:00 pm aboard a 747 (in the fourth row from the rear, center, but not as bad as it sounds) we spent fourteen and a half hours reading, doing word jumbles, watching FIVE movies, and eating many meals. A few of them were called lunch and dinner, I’m not sure about the rest. Danielle spent much of the flight listening to the Bill Bryson tapes, “In A Sunburned Country”, his wonderful tour of Australia. One thing’s certain: all future plane flights will seem short! But Danielle held up well, and she and Linda both got some sleep. There was a beautiful view of Sydney and its harbor as we landed about 9pm. . . Monday night.
Monday, July 9, 2001
Hey, what happened to Monday? Eaten by the international date line. We’ll get it back in two weeks.
Tuesday, July 10, 2001
We were supposed to be at the Sofitel, but the travel agent waited so long to reserve it that it was full. Then they put us at the Rydges Wentworth, a 5-star that looked like it had potential. Somehow it got booked up, too. So at the last minute we ended up at the Premier Menzies, four steps below the Sofitel in the Accor chain, and a 3-star at best. But the rooms are clean, if small.
Breakfast buffet in the Clarrington Restaurant (why is there spaghetti?) and then off to the Sydney Aquarium at Darling Harbor. At first the aquarium seemed somewhat run-down and modest, but the very first exhibit — the platypus — captured our hearts, and everything else was great, too. The pair of platypi(?) were like otters, in constant motion, and we could see them above and below the water. If these things were in a Sci-Fi movie you wouldn’t believe them. They look like otters wearing fake duck beaks and paddle wheel flippers.
We had lunch in the rotating restaurant atop the Centrepoint Tower, the tallest structure in New South Wales — in fact, the tallest in the Southern hemisphere. I’ve been to the top of the CN Tower in Toronto, and the Stratosphere in Las Vegas, both of which are taller, but they can’t come close to the view from Centrepont.
Syndney is simply the most beautiful city I’ve been in. Not necessarily the neatest, funnest, or most intriguing, but from a pure photogenic standpoint, it puts even Paris and San Francisco to shame. located on a spur surrounded by harbors, inlets islands and mountains, there’s something interesting to look at in every direction. And from Centrepoint there’s there’s nothing to block your view.
We walked back to the hotel, which afforded Danielle the opportunity to add to her stuffed animal collection in the shops along the way — wombats, koalas, echidnas, kangaroos and wallabies — the choices are a bit different here.
We had a quiet afternoon, and a tasty dinner — chicken tandoori and Thai chicken — in the hotel dining room.
Wednesday, July 11, 2001
Another buffet breakfast (what the hell is it with this spaghetti, anyway?) and then a visit to the Australia Museum, where they have a fabulous collection of rocks and minerals, an interesting room full of skeletons, and the good taste to use our audio/video equipment.
I skipped lunch and headed over to the SMPTE show for the afternoon, while Linda and Danielle went to Xerts, a space-themed restaurant where you order from a touchscreen at your table and watch cartoons while you wait. Then they toured the Sydney Opera House, which they enjoyed.
At the show I had some productive conversations with Clive O’Brien and Tony Hambling of EAV, and several customers from around Australia. The show is very small, as is the market, and I’m not sure it’s worth the expense of sending someone to Australia for it. I do think that if we had a product that could displace some AMX equipment — and the key here is touchscreen interfaces — that we could wedge our way into this market in a bigger way. On the video player side, it’s cost-per-channel that’s the key to selling against DVD players, as always.
For dinner we caught a cab up to The Rocks, the historic area where Sydney was founded. It was reminiscent of Ghirardelli square in San Francisco. In fact everything here in Sydney seems much more similar to America than to England. Only the money, the side of the street they drive on, and the accents are reminders that we’re not somewhere in the U. S.
We had dinner at Shiki Japanese Restaurant — there’s a strong Asian influence here — where Danielle enjoyed the Tepanyaka (table-top grilling of your own seafood) but not being spattered by hot butter.
Thursday, July 12, 2001
We were up early today for a three-part tour. A bus picked us up at the hotel and took us to Star City, near the big new casino, where we transferred to a different bus for a 45-minute trip to Featherdale Animal Park. Sydney is a city of four million people and five million vehicles, and it shows in the traffic.
At Featherdale got to stroll among kangaroos and emus, and pet koalas, wombats and even an Echidna (careful of which direction you stroke those!) It was quite wonderful. There were also hundreds of bird species, a dingo, and some nasty looking crocs. Mingling with the kangaroos was a real highlight of the trip.
The return bus ride dropped us off at Circular Quay where we caught the Captain Cook luncheon cruise. In retrospect it would have been better to take a different cruise, as the one before ours had 13 passengers, and ours was packed. The views of Sydney from the water were pleasant, including the classic view of the Opera House.
This whole part of the tour was very disorganized, and reconnecting with our bus — or any other — after lunch seemed almost impossible. We decided to skip the third part — a driving tour of the city — altogether and instead took a walk through the shopping areas in The Rocks, then a cab back to the hotel.
Internet connections here have been very difficult, but after many attempts I finally managed to get online and process some email this afternoon.
For dinner we went to The Summit, yet another rotating restaurant atop a nearby building where the food was pretty good, and the service pretty absent.
Friday, July 13, 2001
There seemed to be plenty of people willing to fly on Friday the Thirteenth, but the weather wasn’t very cooperative. We were up at 5:30am and at the airport by 7:15 for the flight to Cairns. The only problem was that we couldn’t see the runway for the fog. With no planes coming in, even once the fog lifted, there was no way to get out, so we spent six hours waiting for our flight. This wasn’t nearly as bad as it sounds, though, since we had a nice table by the window, and plenty of things left over from our previous flight to keep us occupied. Danielle made productive use of the time by doing math problems in one of her workbooks, for which she earned almost aus$60.
Speaking of money, Australia seems a real bargain at current exchange rates. The ratio is almost two to one, and things here seem inexpensive anyway (except for gas, which is close to US$4 a gallon).
Take wines, for example. Australian wines are really excellent, but only the really big producers make it to the States; so I’ve been trying to order wines that we can’t get at home. We’ve had some fabulous, intense Cabernets at very nice restaurants, and paid only about US$20 for them.
Anyway, at about 2:00pm we finally took off for Cairns. Helped along by our previous fourteen hour experience, and the very entertaining “Emperor’s New Groove”, the flight seemed extremely quick, and by 6:00pm our cab was pulling up to the Sofitel Reef Casino in Cairns.
What a difference from our previous hotel: marble bathroom, rare wood furniture, and louvered sliding doors dividing up the tropical-style room.
Cairns is unlike any place I’ve been before (perhaps San Juan was like this before they paved it). Lush mountains surround a tropical beach, with a small grid of city streets lined with shops and hotels. The water is that same intense blue as in the Caribbean, but since it’s winter here the breeze is pleasant, but not hot and sticky.
Our balcony is on the south side of the building — the shady side(!) — and affords us a 180 degree view from rainforest to reef. There is a casino at the other end of the building. It is circular, ornate, and reminiscent of a small Vegas casino. There are a few gaming tables which seem to be completely ignored, and hundreds of slot machines. The machines play a peculiar game called Poki. The stakes are very low — in some cases as low as an Australian penny a point. Linda took a crack at it for a few minutes, but never did figure out how it worked.
We dined downstairs at Anthias. Consistent with Australian attitudes, the dress was fairly casual, even though it’s the hotel’s nicest restaurant. The food was superb, and Danielle polished off both her own scallop appetizer and my scallop entree. I inherited her stuffed quail, which was also excellent, and a terrific match to the Rouge Homme Cabernet Sauvignon (aus$41).
Saturday, July 14, 2001
I spent this morning creating this journal, getting caught up on almost two weeks of traveling. We’ve done a lot. Linda has researched tour options here in Cairns while Danielle has worked on her own journal. Room service breakfast was excellent, and included a Mango-Peach Yogurt that Danielle loved. They also made her pancakes, although that sort of food isn’t on their breakfast menu (but baked beans are!) The pancakes were great. Now we’re off to explore.
We spent the afternoon browsing Cairns, having lunch on the Pier. I seems obligatory for visitors to Australia to buy an opal, so I did, but preferred mine “on the hoof”: I bought a rock paper weight.
At the local mall Danielle added to her international collection of Harry Potter books, buying the Australian edition of Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone.
Dinner was across the street, at a small sushi restaurant called Kamome. The Toro sashimi was very fresh.
Wandering around town today we passed a number of Aborigines. A small group of men were very drunk, and laughing among themselves, but most wandered the streets somewhat aimlessly. It’s quite strange; almost as if they were ghost people, no one pays any attention to them. In turn, they seem almost oblivious to their surroundings. It’s almost as if they are looking beyond the buildings and traffic, to the land that was here before. It’s eerie.
Sunday, July 15, 2001
Wow. Today we went to the rainforest. A van picked us up at the hotel at 8:30am and drove us north about 20km to Tjapukai, an aboriginal cultural park. Tjapukai has won the award for best attraction from the Australian Tourism Commission several years running, with good reason. After a preshow of historic artifacts, we saw a live and video production that details some of the aboriginal creation myths, what they call their dream time. The presentation was similar to Mystery Lodge, although the script wasn’t as strong. This was followed by a show in a second theater, with large screen video history of the exploitation of the aborigines, and the Tjapukai in particular. This film was excellent. Then we went outside, and had the unique opportunity to try throwing spears using a primitive spearthrower — what we would call an “atlatl”. We also got to try our hand at boomerang throwing; they really do come back!
After a snack at the snack bar (where it was funny to see the native dancers queueing at the coke machine) we went next door to the Skyrail station.
The Skyrail is a 4. 7 mile gondola ride — the world’s longest — that carries you over the mountain range, just above the treetops of the rainforest. The 36 towers — up to 133 feet tall — were lifted into place by helicopter to avoid disturbing the rainforest. It’s breathtaking as you rise over 1700 feet, nearly kissing the top of the canopy. Temperate breezes wafted through the gondola as we ascended, and the sound of birds was everywhere.
There are two stations along the way, where you disembark and explore. At the first, we went on a ranger-guided walk among the trees. The giant tree pictured at the left was one of the few with no clinging vines, due to its unique defense mechanism: it bark falls off at the slightest provocation. One stinging bush was particularly impressive. If you rub against it, you will itch and burn for months — possibly years — whenever the area gets wet. Its fruit is edible, but who would pick it? At the second stop, we got a spectacular view of Barron Falls, and visited the interpretive center.
At the end of the Skyrail is Kuranda Village, where we shopped for opals and had a late lunch in an open air cafe. Then we boarded the Kuranda Scenic Railway, which wound its way down Barron Gorge, through fifteen tunnels and across many bridges until we reached the alluvial plain. At the end of the 90-minuite trip we were back in Cairns at the railway station just a few blocks from our hotel.
Of the many scenic tours we’ve taken, this was unquestionably the most dramatic and beautiful. It’s not to be missed.
We had dinner on the lawn outside the Hilton, overlooking the pier. While we waited we watched the stars circle the Southern Cross. It seemed strange to not recognize any constellations. The night was gorgeous, warm and balmy. At one point two very large bats briefly perched upside-down in a nearby palm tree. When they swooped away, their wing spans were easily two feet.
Monday, July 16, 2001
Another spectacular day. After an early room service breakfast we walked to the pier and caught the Quicksilver 5, a high speed catamaran. We went up the coast about an hour, first to Port Douglas and then out to Agincourt Reef, one of the 2900 individual reefs that comprise the 2300 km-long Great Barrier Reef. The Quicksilver is appropriately named: it does 60 km/hr. By noon we were tied up along a giant “pontoon”, a multi-level structure with picnic tables, sun bathing area, undersea viewing windows, snorkeling deck, and a dock for a semi-submersible. We violated everything your mother taught you by having a buffet lunch and then snorkeling — well, Danielle and I did, anyway. But Linda got to ride the semi-submersible while we went looking for great white sharks.
Actually, despite Australia’s reputation for things that can kill you, it was the easiest — and easily the most spectacular — snorkeling trip we’ve been on. The snorkeling deck, a grating submerged about a half meter and lined with benches, made it trivial to don our gear and get in and out of the water. And the presence of the reef all around us completely broke up what would otherwise have been two-foot swells; the surface was almost completely calm.
The coral was beyond anything we’d imagined — a bit less colorful than on TV (since we didn’t have bright lights to illuminate it) but infinitely varied. There were hundreds of different kinds on every surface. Myriad colorful fish darted in and out of the crannies, or schooled together in groups of a thousand or more. One fascinating behavior that we observed was that of “cleaner fish” who perform a dance to advertise their availability to the larger fish. These larger fish then literally queue up and wait their turn to be cleaned. They open their mouths and gills, and let the smaller fish remove all of the algae and leftover bits of dinner. Amazing.
After snorkeling, Danielle and I caught the 20-minute ride in the sem-submersible, where picture windows give you a very close view — two feet, at times — of more distant sections of reef. We saw a Whitetip Reef Shark (harmless) sleeping on the bottom. There was also a ray, and dozens of vibrant green parrot fish.
At 3pm we headed back to Port Douglas. The staff was fabulous the entire trip, even handing out cool, lemony towels on the way back. At the Port Douglas Marina we boarded a bus back to Cairns. Port Douglas is a very charming town, with many small bistros and open-air cafes. We wished we’d had time to explore.
The drive down the coast was spectacular, reminiscent of Big Sur. The road hugs the rocky shoreline, squeezed between the rainforest and the narrow, meandering beach. In places it’s barely above sea-level. In the first ten miles we saw only two people. Heaven.
Further along, we passed through a crocodile farm where we crossed a river positively crowded with crocodiles. Later I saw a solitary kangaroo grazing in a clearing. At one turnout two hang-gliders using parasails slowly circled at eye-level just above the rocky coast. This part of Queensland is definitely worth a return trip.
Tuesday, July 17, 2001
This morning I rose early and strolled down the Esplanade to drop off the underwater camera for processing of the reef photos. While I waited I had breakfast and espresso at one of the many sidewalk cafes that line the street. The morning was still quiet, as the shop keepers were still cleaning their facades, and the tourists hadn’t arrived yet. The tide was ebbing, and hundreds of shore birds swooped over the mud flats. The soft reggae music of the cafe was the perfect accompaniment.
After I picked up the photos I went back to pack, and we had lunch on the lawn outside the Hilton, overlooking the pier. They have a great menu: fajitas, curries, and Thai salads.
Then it was off to the airport, where Danielle spent the time earning extra spending money by solving math problems in one of her workbooks, and I continued working my way through the 97-cent jumble book Linda gave me on the first leg of the trip. It’s been a great way to occupy myself in the airports and on the long plane flights, but I don’t care if I ever see another jumble!
We had two flights of about two hours each, with a one-hour layover in Brisbane. I’m afraid it will have to remain one of those cities where I’ve only seen the airport. We arrived in Melbourne a bit after 9:00 pm and by 10:00 pm were settled into our room on the 42nd floor of the lovely Melbourne Sofitel.
Wednesday, July 18, 2001
We all slept soundly after our long travel day, and awoke to a beautiful view of Fitzroy Gardens from our 42nd floor room. While Linda and Danielle slept in, I spent the morning transferring this journal and photos to the web using the hotel’s T1 line (they call it E1).
Here’s a bit of business advice: If, like Royal Doulton, you make a luxury product — for example, fine porcelain — you might want to resist the temptation to put your name on other porcelain products — for example, hotel toilets.
In the afternoon I visited with Clive and Tony at EAV’s new office. It was quite productive. I demonstrated WinScript 2. 0, talked about some selling opportunities against AMX and Crestron equipment, and detailed plans for upcoming products. There was a lot of interest in all four major products we have in development. They each clearly represent good opportunities here in Australia, fitting in better than our existing products.
While I was at EAV, Linda and Danielle walked down to the river, had some sushi at a Japanese restaurant, and did some shopping.
For dinner we went across Flinders Lane to Langston’s Restaurant and Wine Bar, where we had French and English cheeses and an absolutely stunning 1999 Jasper Hill Shiraz that was brimming with flavors — in part due to its amazing 15. 5% alcohol content — including plums, wood smoke and vanilla. My opinion of Shiraz has definitely gone up.
Thursday, July 19, 2001
Today we rose early to catch a tour to the area surrounding Melbourne, including the Yarra Valley wine region.
While we waited for the luxurious Mercedes Benz tour bus we had a chance to examine some of the unusual flowers at the flower market near the hotel. Some of them were strange, to say the least.
Our tour started by climbing the foothills of the Dandenong Range. A hundred varieties of Eucalyptus (“gum”) and other trees strethed high above, forming a dense canopy. The landscape was like what one might imagine Southern California being like if the climate were more tropical. The giants ferns sprouting from the forest floor reached above our heads in some places.
We stopped at a small teahouse in Ferntree Gully where we had great fun feeding King Parrots, Gullahs and Crimson Rosellas that flew out of the thick Eucalyptus forest and landed on our hands and heads.
Our next stop was a short way up the road in Belgrave. This is the departure point for the historic Puffing Billy steam train which was used to move logs from the forest starting in 1900, and became a tourist attraction soon after. The train and 24 km of track have been completely restored, and are operated entirely by volunteers from all over the world. We took the thirty minute (10 km) ride through the forest to Menzies Creek, where we caught up with our bus for the drive to the Yarra Valley.
Lunch was at Fergusson’s Winery. Danielle had their specialty, the spit roast, but Linda and I selected main courses that didn’t involve any spit.
We stopped for wine tasting at Yering Station, and then a snack and sparkling wine tasting at Domaine Chandon. Linda and I both liked the still wines that Domaine Chandon was selling under the Green Hill label better than their sparklers.
Our final stop was at Eyton (pronounced Eye-ton) on Yarra, where we tasted a range of wines and toured the cellar.
At each of the wineries we visited, we saw magpies, large black and white birds with an elaborate melody. There were also sheep grazing on the cuttings lying between the rows of just pruned vines.
At all three stops, most of the wines were quite good, and a few were excellent. We bought six to bring back with us. I’d love to visit Clive’s wine shop and track down some of the really fabulous Connawara wines we’ve had with dinners, but we just can’t carry any more. I guess we’ll just have to come back on a wine tasting expedition to some of the many other Autralian viticultural regions.
Today’s tour was the best of all the day tours we’ve taken. This was due in large part to our driver, Nemo, who was very friendly, interesting and well-informed. Also, we dropped most of the group off at an animal park for the entire afternoon, so the three of us and one other fellow had a nearly private wine-tasting tour on our lovely tour bus!
We had dinner at Kenzan, the Japanese restaurant in the bottom of the hotel, where we sat in a Tatami room with paper walls and a sliding door.
Friday, July 20, 2001
Today we had a relatively quiet last day in Australia. We walked through Chinatown and then on up to Queen Victoria Market, passing through many blocks of interconnected department stores and malls on the way. We had lunch on the patio of an old brick building (with a sign on its tower saying “Shot Factory”) that has been completely absorbed into the mall, with a conical glass structure enclosing its entire six-story tower.
Queen Victoria Market was a bit of a disappointment. Originally an open-air produce market next to a cemetery, it became so popular that they dug up the cemetery and expanded into it. Now it’s little more than a flea market.
We walked back past the hotel to the tiny opal shop that Linda and Danielle discovered on Wednesday. The German couple that owns it is charming. He is a true enthusiast, who spends most of his time carefully polishing opal sections out of the raw boulders. He showed us one piece that was about 1. 5 inches by 3 inches that looked like trees and ferns when you held it one way, and dancing women wearing white when you held it upside down. The colors and depths of that one and other special stones he showed us were phenomenal — and phenomenally priced, at about $60,000 Aus. We bought a few small pieces that can only be considered trinkets in comparison.
Back at the hotel we relaxed for a while. Danielle finally finished “Curse of Monkey Island”. And I bought some candies for the crew at Alcorn McBride which should prove amusing.
For dinner we went to the restaurant complex on the other side of the river, called Southgate. We had a lovely dinner at Blake’s, a place that serves “New Australian” cuisine. The service was great, and we had an excellent Wynn’s “Michael” Shiraz. It was very noisy though, due in large part to the table seated next to us: ten 16-year-old girls dressed like Britney Spears — in other words, like hookers. Worst of all, they were behind me.
We were originally going to pack Friday night, but when we got back to the hotel there was quite a good singer/pianist playing in the lounge of the atrium that the hotel surrounds, so Linda and I decided to spend a quiet hour enjoying the music. As Bill Bryson noted in his wildly entertaining “In A Sunburned Country”, music in Australia seems to be caught in a time warp. But it was fine with us that all of the songs were thirty years old.
Danielle went to bed, but stayed up late reading Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. This is a t least her fifth time through it, but the first time with the English edition, which she bought on the trip. She’s enjoying spotting all of the differences in the text: jumpers for sweaters, and no “bloody” noses.
Saturday, July 21, 2001
Up early, lots of packing, then off to the airport and a quick bit ebefore the flight. We’re getting to be old hands at these long flights. Five movies, three meals, and a very short night, and we were touching down in L. A. The sunset in the vicinity of Hawaii was the most beautiful I’ve ever seen — layers of streaky white clouds, pierced by roiling thunderheads far, far below us, and the whole horizon turning orange, then green, then indigo.
Saturday, July 21, 2001
Yes, there are two July 21sts this month. In fact we landed three hours before we took off! Our room at the Westin wasn’t quite ready, so we had another breakfast while we waited — our fifth meal for Saturday, but not our last. Then we settled in for a nap — six hours worth — before renting a car downstairs and meeting Grampa and Grandma for dinner. We went to Cafe del Rey at Marina del Rey. When Linda made the reservation, she didn’t realize that it’s part of the California Cafe chain, which we like a lot. Dinner was superb — frankly, the best meal of the trip — and we had two terrific wines: Gainey Reserve Unfiltered Chardonnay, and Morgan Reserve Unfiltered Pinot Noir. We settled into bed at about 11:00 pm, and were, of course, wide awake at 3:00 am.
Have I mentioned that Westins suck? For a supposedly high-end hotel, the service seems consistently abysmal. It took two calls to get our bags delivered, two more to get them picked up, and they couldn’t even manage to print an invoice when we checked out. Next time we’ll go back to the Marriott, or Embassy Suites.
Sunday, July 22, 2001
Our take-off was slightly delayed because the heating and AC unit failed when the disconnected from the terminal power, but we got off before 8:00 AM, and touched down in Orlando shortly before the start of our quarterly Wine Syndicate dinner, on the other side of town. A quick stop at home, and then Danielle was off to spend the night with Nicole, and Linda and I headed out to meet the group at Emeril’s in City Walk.
In retrospect, Australia was probably our best trip ever. The package we got was certainly the best deal ever. The bottom line for all three of us for two weeks was $5800 — not including food and side tours — a terrific bargain. We had excellent flights and a nice leisurely schedule; it was great to have a day to relax after each travel day. Even the long overseas flights weren’t that bad.
Most of the accommodations were also top-notch, especially in Cairns. The people couldn’t have been friendlier, nor the scenery more beautiful. I highly recommend this trip to everyone. Go while the exchange rate is still two for one!